That's me with my first 'writer's' cheque. Well, technically, I published two articles in a magazine when I was in school, but this is the first cheque I have got since turning adult the year the Berlin Wall came down. Technically too, this the cheque, though mine, is not in my name. But that is a whole long story......
In June last year, a schoolmate I had recently discovered caught me on g-chat “I am one story short in ‘Chicken Soup for the Indian Teenagers’ Soul’. Can you write something, do you think?
The brief was uninspiring, but I was willing to have a go at it. As I racked my brains to think of something appropriate, I remembered a short story I had written many years back. “Small Town Girl” had been a semi-autobiographical attempt at flash fiction.
I thought I could tidy it up a bit, but my friend – the editor of the series - thought it was perfect as it was. Within an hour, she had e-mailed me the terms and conditions of my work appearing in print (Rs. 500 for the piece, all rights to rest with me). While I am no fan of the Chicken Soup series (or most other self help books), I cant’ deny I was excited about the idea of seeing my work in print.
I had been given to understand that the book would be out in two months, but when I heard nothing for four months, I asked my friend about it. The publishing house that had rights to the Chicken Soup series in India, she told me, had been taken over by another. They were in the process of renewing her contract, and we would hear from them shortly.
The shortly stretched into a few months. In the meantime, I my friend told me all about how well ‘Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul’ was doing. It was in its third print run, was being translated into several Indian languages, and they were in talks with a theater company into adapting some stories for the stage. I was naturally happy for my friend, but wondered how any of it really applied to me or my solitary contribution to the series.
Then, in the last week of April, we heard from the editor (my friend). In a mail addressed to everyone (not even bcc-ed), she sent a singularly one-sided revised contract that we were supposed to send back to her immediately.
The revised contract spoke about surrendering translation rights, e-book , graphic novel and multimedia rights, even adaptation rights. All for the same token amount of Rs. 500.
To say that the contract whipped up a storm is to put it mildly. Everytime I logged on, my mailbox was stuffed with messages from the contributors, the editor and the representative of the publishing company. Accusations, counter accusations, threats, insults, insinuations, sarcasm – all were traded in equal measure.
Meanwhile, the legal brain in me had been more worried about the indemnities and warranties clause, and having got permission to amend those, I had signed the contract and was ready to send it off.
However, in solidarity with the rest of the contributors, most of whom had a greater creative/ professional axe to grind than me, I held off sending the contract till the issue was sorted out. It wasn’t, and with a dozen others, I withdrew my piece from the compilation.
One of us blogged about it, but before I could dredge up the enthusiasm to do so, the CEO of the publishing house called me, and spoke to me for over an hour. It was nice talking to a rational human being, who realized the absurdity of sticking to the previous payment, when so many more "rights" were being asked for. After a lot of negotiation, the publishing house came back with an amended offer – the initial payment was doubled, and a system of further payments was drawn up which would be linked to sales. They even expressed the willingness to amend or totally remove the legal clauses that I objected to.
By that time, the entire episode had so frustrated me, I wanted to opt out. The only reason I didn’t was because after the effort that the CEO had made, it seemed somehow underhand to withdraw.
But I did make a point. Since all along I had been insisting that it was the approach that I objected to and not the money, I insisted on the cheque being made out to my favourite charity.
Fifteen months after the start of the episode, the cheque finally arrived!
I am now officially a published author. And one charity is Rs. 1,000 richer, with the promise of more, if the book does well.
The bad news? The 'friend' I discovered quite by accident, is now an ex-friend. I've even been knocked off her Facebook list - now, isn't that tragic !